Just as summer is synonymous with a new swimsuit or a pair of sandals, it has come to signal a new book release from New York Times best-selling author Mary Kay Andrews.
Part Agatha Christie, part Nicholas Sparks, Andrews is a murder-mystery writer who took a sandier, sunnier turn after her 10th mystery book.
The prolific writer's latest, "Save the Date," is as beach-worthy a read as any. It centers on up-and-coming florist Cara Kryzik, a likable divorcee who arranges flowers for Savannah society nuptials. Cara's small shop is struggling financially until she lands the biggest wedding of her career, the lavish Strayhorn-Trapnell wedding, whose commission is just what she needs to pay off the debt she owes her father. But along the way Cara must contend with a hectic wedding season schedule, a flight-risk bride, and a competitor bent on seeing her fail. Add a potential love interest in a local carpenter, and the book becomes an ideal beach-bag accompaniment.
"Save the Date" is the author's 13th book under the pseudonym Mary Kay Andrews. After publishing 10 mysteries under her real name, Kathy Hogan Trocheck, she decided to write a completely new kind of story under a new name. However, Andrews' beach reads, including "Savannah Blues," "Ladies Night" and "Summer Rental," have become so popular that she has reissued her mysteries under her pseudonym. "Mary Kay Andrews" is a combination of her children's names -- Mary Kay for her daughter Mary Kathleen, and Andrews, for her son Andy.
A native of the South, Andrews writes books that are always set below the Mason-Dixon Line. After living in Savannah off and on for 25 years, Andrews captures her setting for "Save the Date" with authenticity. Her characters enjoy cool glasses of Moon River beer, walks in Ardsley Park, and breakfasts at Back in the Day bakery. Savannahians are sure to appreciate the detail, while those on the South Carolina side of the river might bristle at Andrews' spelling of "low country." But the fun and flirty nature of the novel softens the slip.
Lowcountry Life spoke with Andrews from her vacation home on Tybee Island about her inspiration for "Save the Date," her favorite flowers and her "junking" hobby.
Question. After writing mysteries, why switch to the more beach-read style?
Andrews. Around 2000, I decided to try a different kind of book. I originally thought it was going to be a mystery. It was set in Savannah, and it had a murder in it. The protagonist was an antique dealer and by the end, you didn't really care about solving the murder. When I got done, my editor said, "Actually, this is a beach book." The transition was actually pretty seamless. I still use elements of suspense and mystery in the books. There's always some sort of unanswered question or small or large crime, which is usually a crime of passion. Every once in a while I'll be plotting a book and think, "Oh gosh, it's going slow. Maybe I should kill somebody." But my editor tends to discourage that.
Q. Tell me more about "Save the Date." What inspired you to write about a florist in Savannah?
Andrews. We do a huge launch party every year in Atlanta when a new book comes out. When planning my last one, my marketing manager said we'd be sending out "save the date" cards, and I thought, that's a book title! It's set in Savannah -- Savannah was the first place my husband and I moved to when we were newlyweds. It's just a place I love. It's so evocative. It's a place where history is seeping from every corner of the city. So it's a romantic place to be and a romantic place to write a book with romance in it.
Q. In the book's acknowledgements, you thank an actual florist and wedding planner in Savannah. Tell me more about the research you did for the book.
Andrews. My friend Elizabeth Demos is a wedding stylist. You tell her what your wedding dream is, and she makes it happen. She referred me to Garden on the Square (a wedding floral shop in Savannah). So I went there and hung out for a couple days. I'm a former journalist, so I always try to get the details right. For "Deep Dish," I was writing about a television chef, so for that one I went and watched Paula Deen taping her show.
I also did a lot of research on flowers. What's the most expensive flower? What's the hardest to get?
Q. In the book, Cara deals with some crazy brides and some over-the-top wedding demands. Did any of those scenarios come from weddings you've attended?
Andrews. Not so much from the weddings I've attended, more from stories I've heard. The idea of having a runaway bride came to me when I was planning this launch party. We were looking at a venue called The Escape, which is rented out for weddings a lot. I was talking to the person who did bookings, and she told me about a bride who had booked them and the Thursday before the wedding, the groom texts (the bride) and says, "We both know this isn't going to work." And I thought, "Oh, that's got to go in a book." So I switched it around and had a runaway bride instead of a runaway groom.
Q. If you could do your wedding over again and Cara Kryzik was your florist, what would your flowers look like?
Andrews. I do love hydrangeas. And I love peonies. I have peonies in my yard in Atlanta, and I have hydrangeas in our yard on Tybee.
I love casablanca lilies. I love blue flowers. I was just looking at my wedding flowers the other day, and it looks like I had white roses and carnations and peach-colored roses. Because peach was apparently a big year in 1976.
Q. What's next for you after your book tour?
Andrews. After that, I have to come home and start writing next summer's book. As soon as I get home, it will be pedal to the metal. I have a very sketchy idea for it. I usually try to get a book out the first Tuesday in June. I've just been contracted for two more books. So summer 2015 and summer 2016, I'll have books out.
I tour off and on for five or six weeks. And I do a lot of speaking engagements, meet with book clubs, that sort of thing. And in between I visit my family and go junking.
Q. What's the deal with junking?
Andrews. I've always had a passion for antiques, which is why I made Weezie Foley, the protagonist of the "Savannah Blues" trilogy, an antique dealer. My late mother was a world-class junker who thought nothing of picking up a discarded armchair from the side of a road, and I've inherited that tendency. I don't play tennis or golf or bridge. My sport is extreme junking. When I tour, I spend off hours haunting antique stores or flea markets. When I'm home, you can find me most Friday or Saturday mornings saddled up with my junk posse, off to an estate sale.
Note: Andrews recommends Home Vintage General for the best junking in Savannah. It's even mentioned in her novel "Hissy Fit." Andrews said there are wonderful shabby chic antiques and adorable gifts to be found at the store at 7 W. York St., Savannah.
Follow reporter Erin Shaw at twitter.com/IPBG_ErinShaw.